Twelve months ago, Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister in a brutal and ruthlessly executed leadership coup. Was it worth it?
The thing I’ve been shaking my head about this week — when thousands of column inches have been expended on the subject of the first anniversary of Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership — is the proliferation of articles stating that Julia Gillard was elected unopposed by the ALP caucus as Labor leader and thus Prime Minister following the resignation of Kevin Rudd.
Presentation is everything.
These reports are factually correct, in that Rudd opted not to contest the Labor leadership ballot which consequently saw Gillard elected unopposed, but ignore the machinations and intrigue which left him no choice other than utter humiliation.
Prior to Rudd’s withdrawal, the consensus was that Gillard would have won at least 80, and likely more, of the 110-odd votes available in the ALP caucus.
I wanted to start with this; not to defend Rudd, but to illustrate just how divorced from reality some journalists are when it comes to the Labor Party and how, despite their best endeavours, the sins of Julia have found her out.
It’s no secret in political circles that Rudd is an arrogant, abrasive, noxious and periodically abusive creature. It’s no secret anywhere else that he is also self-obsessed, ruthlessly ambitious, and filled with rectitude in his conviction of the utter worth and value of his thoughts and ideas and of their superiority to those from any other quarter.
Yet he was a first-term Prime Minister who’d ended nearly 12 years of government by his opponents, and despite the poor government he ran was polling strongly enough at the time of his removal (five months from an election) to be re-elected with a barely-changed majority.
Still, it’s been 12 months, one year, or (frankly) a bloody long time. How has Julia Gillard done?
Her first task was to “fix” Rudd’s Resource Super Profits Tax (we’ll just call it mining tax); a “fix” that involved a deal with a few of the biggest mining companies and ignored the rest. And even now, the mining lobby reserves its right to fight the Labor government anew: the deal fixed nothing. And this is before we even discuss the lunacy of trying to cripple with taxation and sovereign risk the industry which is virtually the sole driver of economic growth in this country at present.
(Remember, the Canadians, the South Africans, the Brazilians, and anyone else with minerals in the ground are more than happy to take our export markets: and once those markets are lost, they’re very difficult — if not impossible — to win back).
Other “fixes” were orchestrated too, primarily on politically sensitive issues in which the government had already blotted its copybook. These were mere Band-Aid solutions, as had been her response to the mining tax issue, but with those fabric strips in place, she called an election…
…which nobody won. It is indictment enough that a first-term government elected three years earlier with a healthy majority was robbed of its majority, but the Liberal/National opposition won more seats than Labor and was denied government only on account of so-called “independents,” sitting in overwhelmingly conservative electorates, siding with Labor.
Gillard was meant to win in a landslide. After all, in her own words, this was a “good government that had lost its way.” She was its salvation.
Nobody won. But Gillard profited, and was confirmed by the House of Representatives as Prime Minister. Many excruciating days after the election, and after many excruciating minutes of a speech by Rob Oakeshott, Gillard continued in government.
For some months, the Labor government ambled aimlessly on its way. One person who wasn’t aimless was Kevin Rudd: relegated to the backbench after Gillard’s coup, and installed as Foreign Minister after the eventual result from the election, Kevin 747 set about his job with gusto, and set about making mischief for the government he purported to serve.
Specifically, Kevin 747 has made it clear, since the first day of his tenure at the Department of Foreign Affairs, that he remains available. More on him later.
With the government already starting to list in the reputable opinion polls (and actually look like losing, as opposed to the convenient interpretations utilised by ALP apparatchiks prior to rolling Rudd), the real kicker came in February this year: despite a solemn and thoroughly unambiguous promise to do nothing of the kind, Gillard announced a carbon tax.
Immediately, the ALP’s ratings went into a tailspin, whence they have not recovered. Ridiculously, four or five months later, there is still not a shred of hard detail on record from the government in relation to what shape this tax might take.
But presentation is everything. Having pulled the trigger on her intention to break an election promise (and it was likely the promise which saved the ALP enough seats to negotiate government with), there has not been one iota of fat added to the bones of a motherhood statement on taxing carbon.
Yet for months Gillard and the ALP has allowed this to drag on, and to drag them into the sort of electoral territory which doesn’t merely indicate defeat, it indicates slaughter.
And all the while, this government has absolutely nothing to point to as a real achievement in terms of delivering practical and beneficial outcomes to the people who voted for it or, indeed, to anyone else.
Certainly, under Rudd the excessive WorkChoices laws were wound back…to an archaic extent more pro-union than at any time in more than 20 years. Those changes aided nobody other than unions.
Indeed, schoolkids who wanted to work for an hour or two after they finished school of an afternoon were denied jobs because shifts shorter than three hours were illegal. What a great message about work ethic to send to the upcoming generation.
Again, under Rudd, an apology was made in Parliament (and thus under privilege and therefore immune to legal proceedings) to the so-called Stolen Generation. Nice gesture. But I would ask what constructive difference that gesture made to the day-to-day life of Aboriginal people: how it helped them pay the rent or the mortgage, to feed themselves, clothe themselves, look after their children, get an education, and so forth.
Like the changes to industrial relations law, this was more about the sizzle than the sausage, and Labor knows it.
Yet these are things done on Rudd’s watch, and there are many more examples available. Yes, he and his agenda were misguided, tokenistic, sometimes malicious and usually plain wrong, but things happened on his watch, whether they were right or wrong.
The same can’t be said of Ms Gillard.
We do have Commonwealth debt at its highest level ever, and rising, with Labor seeking to raise the cap on Commonwealth debt by a further $50 billion. Does that qualify as an achievement?
And whilst debt to GDP ratios in Australia may be relatively low by world standards today, so were Britain’s before Tony Blair and Gordon Brown got hold of them. That dear country is on the brink of bankruptcy today as a direct result of Labour Party mismanagement. It took 13 years there; Labor here has had less than four so far. I shudder to think what the landscape might look like in ten years if they remain in office.
Accompanying Labor’s apparently terminal plunge in public opinion, the rattled government that has created, and a weak, directionless and reactionary Prime Minister unable or unwilling to get effective control over things, the spectre of Kevin Rudd looms large.
Those who read this column know my thoughts on Rudd, on Gillard, and the government they have so spectacularly and incompetently led since late 2007.
Yet with Kevin 747 refusing to accept his time is over, and with Julia Gillard refusing to run an accountable and honest government, the intrigue, the drift, the policy U-turns and the sheer political ineptitude we witness daily are unsurprising.
In this climate we have a government lurching toward defeat; its original leader, reviled by his party but engendering some sympathy from the electorate, hankering after his old job for purely selfish purposes; ad-hoc and dishonest government policy generating fury throughout the country and a clamour for fresh elections; a government nobody wants, a Prime Minister nobody respects or believes, and a parliament that has been rendered a farce.
It is one year today since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister: a sorry year indeed, in the context of the governance of Australia.
It’s not a happy anniversary, Prime Minister.
The legal requirements to the contrary might very well be inarguable, but morally, you owe millions of Australians a fresh election.
Do the honourable thing, and perhaps salvage some modicum of your reputation for having had the decency to respect the overwhelming weight of public expectation in the face of the shattering dishonesty and incompetence you have exhibited as Prime Minister of this great country, and resign.
It hasn’t been a pleasant year.